Part 6 out of 12
'On one occasion, when the regiment were going through their exercise,
he went quite close to the men at one of the extremities of it, and
watched all their practices attentively; and, when he came away, his
remark was, "The men indeed do load their muskets and fire with
wonderful celerity." He was likewise particular in requiring to know
what was the weight of the musquet balls in use, and within what
distance they might be expected to take effect when fired off.
'In walking among the tents, and observing the difference between those
of the officers and private men, he said that the superiority of
accommodation of the better conditions of life, to that of the inferiour
ones, was never exhibited to him in so distinct a view. The civilities
paid to him in the camp were, from the gentlemen of the Lincolnshire
regiment, one of the officers of which accommodated him with a tent in
which he slept; and from General Hall, who very courteously invited him
to dine with him, where he appeared to be very well pleased with his
entertainment, and the civilities he received on the part of the
General; the attention likewise, of the General's aid-de-camp,
Captain Smith, seemed to be very welcome to him, as appeared by their
engaging in a great deal of discourse together. The gentlemen of the
East York regiment likewise on being informed of his coming, solicited
his company at dinner, but by that time he had fixed his departure, so
that he could not comply with the invitation.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'I have received two letters from you, of which the second complains of
the neglect shewn to the first. You must not tye your friends to such
punctual correspondence. You have all possible assurances of my
affection and esteem; and there ought to be no need of reiterated
professions. When it may happen that I can give you either counsel or
comfort, I hope it will never happen to me that I should neglect you;
but you must not think me criminal or cold if I say nothing when I have
nothing to say.
'You are now happy enough. Mrs. Boswell is recovered; and I congratulate
you upon the probability of her long life. If general approbation will
add anything to your enjoyment, I can tell you that I have heard you
mentioned as _a man whom everybody likes_. I think life has little
more to give.
'---- has gone to his regiment. He has laid down his coach, and
talks of making more contractions of his expence: how he will succeed I
know not. It is difficult to reform a household gradually; it may be
better done by a system totally new. I am afraid he has always something
to hide. When we pressed him to go to ----, he objected the
necessity of attending his navigation; yet he could talk of going
to Aberdeen, a place not much nearer his navigation. I believe he cannot
bear the thought of living at ---- in a state of diminution; and
of appearing among the gentlemen of the neighbourhood _shorn of his
beams_. This is natural, but it is cowardly. What I told him of
the encreasing expence of a growing family seems to have struck him. He
certainly had gone on with very confused views, and we have, I think,
shewn him that he is wrong; though, with the common deficiency of
advisers, we have not shewn him how to do right.
'I wish you would a little correct or restrain your imagination, and
imagine that happiness, such as life admits, may be had at other places
as well as London. Without asserting Stoicism, it may be said, that it
is our business to exempt ourselves as much as we can from the power of
external things. There is but one solid basis of happiness; and that is,
the reasonable hope of a happy futurity. This may be had every where.
'I do not blame your preference of London to other places, for it is
really to be preferred, if the choice is free; but few have the choice
of their place, or their manner of life; and mere pleasure ought not to
be the prime motive of action.
'Mrs. Thrale, poor thing, has a daughter. Mr. Thrale dislikes the
times, like the rest of us. Mrs. Williams is sick; Mrs. Desmoulins
is poor. I have miserable nights. Nobody is well but Mr. Levett.
'I am, dear Sir, Your most, &c.
'London, July 3, 1778.'
In the course of this year there was a difference between him and his
friend Mr. Strahan; the particulars of which it is unnecessary to
relate. Their reconciliation was communicated to me in a letter from Mr.
Strahan, in the following words:--
'The notes I shewed you that passed between him and me were dated in
March last. The matter lay dormant till July 27, when he wrote to
me as follows:
"To William Strahan, Esq.
"It would be very foolish for us to continue strangers any longer. You
can never by persistency make wrong right. If I resented too
acrimoniously, I resented only to yourself. Nobody ever saw or heard
what I wrote. You saw that my anger was over, for in a day or two I came
to your house. I have given you longer time; and I hope you have made so
good use of it, as to be no longer on evil terms with, Sir,
'On this I called upon him; and he has since dined with me.'
After this time, the same friendship as formerly continued between Dr.
Johnson and Mr. Strahan. My friend mentioned to me a little circumstance
of his attention, which, though we may smile at it, must be allowed to
have its foundation in a nice and true knowledge of human life. 'When I
write to Scotland, (said he,) I employ Strahan to frank my letters, that
he may have the consequence of appearing a Parliament-man among his
'To CAPTAIN LANGTON, WARLEY-CAMP.
'When I recollect how long ago I was received with so much kindness at
Warley Common, I am ashamed that I have not made some enquiries after my
'Pray how many sheep-stealers did you convict? and how did you punish
them? When are you to be cantoned in better habitations? The air grows
cold, and the ground damp. Longer stay in the camp cannot be without
much danger to the health of the common men, if even the officers can
'You see that Dr. Percy is now Dean of Carlisle; about five hundred a
year, with a power of presenting himself to some good living. He is
'The session of the CLUB is to commence with that of the Parliament. Mr.
Banks desires to be admitted; he will be a very honourable
'Did the King please you? The Coxheath men, I think, have some
reason to complain: Reynolds says your camp is better than theirs.
'I hope you find yourself able to encounter this weather. Take care of
your own health; and, as you can, of your men. Be pleased to make my
compliments to all the gentlemen whose notice I have had, and whose
kindness I have experienced.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'October 31, 1778.'
I wrote to him on the 18th of August, the 18th of September, and the 6th
of November; informing him of my having had another son born, whom I had
called James; that I had passed some time at Auchinleck; that the
Countess of Loudoun, now in her ninety-ninth year, was as fresh as when
he saw her, and remembered him with respect; and that his mother
by adoption, the Countess of Eglintoune, had said to me, 'Tell Mr.
Johnson I love him exceedingly;' that I had again suffered much from bad
spirits; and that as it was very long since I heard from him, I was not
a little uneasy.
The continuance of his regard for his friend Dr. Burney, appears from
the following letters:--
'To THE REVEREND DR. WHEELER, OXFORD.
'Dr. Burney, who brings this paper, is engaged in a History of Musick;
and having been told by Dr. Markham of some MSS. relating to his
subject, which are in the library of your College, is desirous to
examine them. He is my friend; and therefore I take the liberty of
intreating your favour and assistance in his enquiry: and can assure
you, with great confidence, that if you knew him he would not want any
intervenient solicitation to obtain the kindness of one who loves
learning and virtue as you love them.
'I have been flattering myself all the summer with the hope of paying my
annual visit to my friends; but something has obstructed me: I still
hope not to be long without seeing you. I should be glad of a little
literary talk; and glad to shew you, by the frequency of my visits, how
eagerly I love it, when you talk it.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
'London, November 2, 1778.'
'TO THE REVEREND DR. EDWARDS, OXFORD.
'The bearer, DR. BURNEY, has had some account of a Welsh Manuscript in
the Bodleian library, from which he hopes to gain some materials for his
History of Musick; but being ignorant of the language, is at a loss
where to find assistance. I make no doubt but you, Sir, can help him
through his difficulties, and therefore take the liberty of recommending
him to your favour, as I am sure you will find him a man worthy of every
civility that can be shewn, and every benefit that can be conferred.
'But we must not let Welsh drive us from Greek. What comes of
Xenophon? If you do not like the trouble of publishing the book,
do not let your commentaries be lost; contrive that they may be published
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'London, November 2, 1778.
These letters procured Dr. Burney great kindness and friendly offices
from both of these gentleman, not only on that occasion, but in future
visits to the university. The same year Dr. Johnson not only wrote
to Dr. Joseph Warton in favour of Dr. Burney's youngest son, who was to
be placed in the college of Winchester, but accompanied him when he went
We surely cannot but admire the benevolent exertions of this great and
good man, especially when we consider how grievously he was afflicted
with bad health, and how uncomfortable his home was made by the
perpetual jarring of those whom he charitably accommodated under his
roof. He has sometimes suffered me to talk jocularly of his group of
females, and call them his _Seraglio_. He thus mentions them, together
with honest Levett, in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale:
'Williams hates every body; Levett hates Desmoulins, and does not love
Williams; Desmoulins hates them both; Poll loves none of them.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'It is indeed a long time since I wrote, and I think you have some
reason to complain; however, you must not let small things disturb you,
when you have such a fine addition to your happiness as a new boy, and I
hope your lady's health restored by bringing him. It seems very probable
that a little care will now restore her, if any remains of her
complaints are left.
'You seem, if I understand your letter, to be gaining ground at
Auchinleck, an incident that would give me great delight.
* * * * *
'When any fit of anxiety, or gloominess, or perversion of mind, lays
hold upon you, make it a rule not to publish it by complaints, but exert
your whole care to hide it; by endeavouring to hide it, you will drive
it away. Be always busy.
'The CLUB is to meet with the Parliament; we talk of electing Banks, the
traveller; he will be a reputable member.
'Langton has been encamped with his company of militia on Warley-common;
I spent five days amongst them; he signalized himself as a diligent
officer, and has very high respect in the regiment. He presided when I
was there at a court-martial; he is now quartered in Hertfordshire; his
lady and little ones are in Scotland. Paoli came to the camp and
commended the soldiers.
'Of myself I have no great matter to say, my health is not restored, my
nights are restless and tedious. The best night that I have had these
twenty years was at Fort-Augustus.
'I hope soon to send you a few lines to read.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate,
'November 21, 1778.'
About this time the Rev. Mr. John Hussey, who had been some time in
trade, and was then a clergyman of the Church of England, being about to
undertake a journey to Aleppo, and other parts of the East, which he
accomplished, Dr. Johnson, (who had long been in habits of intimacy with
him,) honoured him with the following letter:--
'To MR. JOHN HUSSEY.
'I have sent you the _Grammar_, and have left you two books more, by
which I hope to be remembered; write my name in them; we may perhaps see
each other no more, you part with my good wishes, nor do I despair of
seeing you return. Let no opportunities of vice corrupt you; let no bad
example seduce you; let the blindness of Mahometans confirm you in
Christianity. GOD bless you.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate humble servant,
'December 29, 1778.'
Johnson this year expressed great satisfaction at the publication of the
first volume of _Discourses to the Royal Academy_, by Sir Joshua
Reynolds, whom he always considered as one of his literary school.
Much praise indeed is due to those excellent _Discourses_, which are so
universally admired, and for which the authour received from the Empress
of Russia a gold snuff-box, adorned with her profile in _bas relief_,
set in diamonds; and containing what is infinitely more valuable, a slip
of paper, on which are written with her Imperial Majesty's own hand, the
following words: '_Pour le Chevalier Reynolds en temoignage du
contentement que j'ai ressentie a la lecture de ses excellens
discours sur la peinture_.'
In 1779, Johnson gave the world a luminous proof that the vigour of his
mind in all its faculties, whether memory, judgement, or imagination,
was not in the least abated; for this year came out the first four
volumes of his _Prefaces, biographical and critical, to the most eminent
of the English Poets_,[*] published by the booksellers of London. The
remaining volumes came out in the year 1780. The Poets were
selected by the several booksellers who had the honorary copy right,
which is still preserved among them by mutual compact, notwithstanding
the decision of the House of Lords against the perpetuity of Literary
Property. We have his own authority, that by his
recommendation the poems of Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret,
and Yalden, were added to the collection. Of this work I shall
speak more particularly hereafter.
On the 22nd of January, I wrote to him on several topicks, and mentioned
that as he had been so good as to permit me to have the proof sheets of
his _Lives of the Poets_, I had written to his servant, Francis, to take
care of them for me.
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, Feb. 2, 1779.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'Garrick's death is a striking event; not that we should be surprised
with the death of any man, who has lived sixty-two years; but because
there was a _vivacity_ in our late celebrated friend, which drove away
the thoughts of _death_ from any association with _him_. I am sure you
will be tenderly affected with his departure; and I would wish to
hear from you upon the subject. I was obliged to him in my days of
effervescence in London, when poor Derrick was my governour; and
since that time I received many civilities from him. Do you remember how
pleasing it was, when I received a letter from him at Inverary,
upon our first return to civilized living after our Hebridean journey? I
shall always remember him with affection as well as admiration.
'On Saturday last, being the 30th of January, I drank coffee and
old port, and had solemn conversation with the Reverend Mr. Falconer, a
nonjuring bishop, a very learned and worthy man. He gave two toasts,
which you will believe I drank with cordiality, Dr. Samuel Johnson, and
Flora Macdonald. I sat about four hours with him, and it was really as
if I had been living in the last century. The Episcopal Church of
Scotland, though faithful to the royal house of Stuart, has never
accepted of any _conge d'lire_, since the Revolution; it is the only
true Episcopal Church in Scotland, as it has its own succession of
bishops. For as to the episcopal clergy who take the oaths to the
present government, they indeed follow the rites of the Church of
England, but, as Bishop Falconer observed, "they are not _Episcopals_;
for they are under no bishop, as a bishop cannot have authority beyond
his diocese." This venerable gentleman did me the honour to dine with me
yesterday, and he laid his hands upon the heads of my little ones. We
had a good deal of curious literary conversation, particularly about Mr.
Thomas Ruddiman, with whom he lived in great friendship.
'Any fresh instance of the uncertainty of life makes one embrace more
closely a valuable friend. My dear and much respected Sir, may GOD
preserve you long in this world while I am in it.
'I am ever,
'Your much obliged,
'And affectionate humble servant,
On the 23rd of February I wrote to him again, complaining of his
silence, as I had heard he was ill, and had written to Mr. Thrale, for
information concerning him; and I announced my intention of soon being
again in London.
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Why should you take such delight to make a bustle, to write to Mr.
Thrale that I am negligent, and to Francis to do what is so very
unnecessary. Thrale, you may be sure, cared not about it; and I shall
spare Francis the trouble, by ordering a set both of the _Lives_ and
_Poets_ to dear Mrs. Boswell, in acknowledgement of her marmalade.
Persuade her to accept them, and accept them kindly. If I thought she
would receive them scornfully, I would send them to Miss Boswell, who, I
hope, has yet none of her mamma's ill-will to me.
'I would send sets of _Lives_, four volumes, to some other friends, to
Lord Hailes first. His second volume lies by my bed-side; a book surely
of great labour, and to every just thinker of great delight. Write me
word to whom I shall send besides; would it please Lord Auchinleck?
Mrs. Thrale waits in the coach.
'I am, dear Sir, &c.,
'March 13, 1779.'
This letter crossed me on the road to London, where I arrived on Monday,
March 15, and next morning at a late hour, found Dr. Johnson sitting
over his tea, attended by Mrs. Desmoulins, Mr. Levett, and a clergyman,
who had come to submit some poetical pieces to his revision. It is
wonderful what a number and variety of writers, some of them even
unknown to him, prevailed on his good-nature to look over their works,
and suggest corrections and improvements. My arrival interrupted
for a little while the important business of this true representative
of Bayes; upon its being resumed, I found that the subject under
immediate consideration was a translation, yet in manuscript, of the
_Carmen Seculare_ of Horace, which had this year been set to musick, and
performed as a publick entertainment in London, for the joint benefit of
Monsieur Philidor and Signer Baretti. When Johnson had done
reading, the authour asked him bluntly, 'If upon the whole it was a good
translation?' Johnson, whose regard for truth was uncommonly strict,
seemed to be puzzled for a moment, what answer to make; as he certainly
could not honestly commend the performance: with exquisite address he
evaded the question thus, 'Sir, I do not say that it may not be made a
very good translation.' Here nothing whatever in favour of the
performance was affirmed, and yet the writer was not shocked. A printed
_Ode to the Warlike Genius of Britain_, came next in review; the bard
 was a lank bony figure, with short black hair; he was writhing
himself in agitation, while Johnson read, and shewing his teeth in a
grin of earnestness, exclaimed in broken sentences, and in a keen sharp
tone, 'Is that poetry, Sir?--Is it _Pindar_?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, there
is here a great deal of what is called poetry.' Then, turning to me, the
poet cried, 'My muse has not been long upon the town, and (pointing to
the _Ode_) it trembles under the hand of the great critick.'
Johnson, in a tone of displeasure, asked him, 'Why do you praise Anson
?' I did not trouble him by asking his reason for this question.
He proceeded, 'Here is an errour, Sir; you have made Genius feminine.'
 'Palpable, Sir; (cried the enthusiast) I know it. But (in a lower
tone) it was to pay a compliment to the Duchess of Devonshire, with
which her Grace was pleased. She is walking across Coxheath, in the
military uniform, and I suppose her to be the Genius of Britain.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, you are giving a reason for it; but that will not make it
right. You may have a reason why two and two should make five; but they
will still make but four.'
Although I was several times with him in the course of the following
days, such it seems were my occupations, or such my negligence, that I
have preserved no memorial of his conversation till Friday, March 26,
when I visited him. He said he expected to be attacked on account of his
_Lives of the Poets_. 'However (said he) I would rather be attacked than
unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an authour is to be silent
as to his works.. An assault upon a town is a bad thing; but
starving it is still worse; an assault may be unsuccessful; you may have
more men killed than you kill; but if you starve the town, you are sure
Talking of a friend of ours associating with persons of very discordant
principles and characters; I said he was a very universal man, quite a
man of the world. JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but one may be so much a man
of the world as to be nothing in the world. I remember a passage in
Goldsmith's _Vicar of Wakefield_, which he was afterwards fool enough to
expunge: "I do not love a man who is zealous for nothing."' BOSWELL.
'That was a fine passage.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir: there was another fine
passage too, which he struck out: "When I was a young man, being anxious
to distinguish myself, I was perpetually starting new propositions. But
I soon gave this over; for, I found that generally what was new was
false."' I said I did not like to sit with people of whom I had not
a good opinion. JOHNSON. 'But you must not indulge your delicacy too much;
or you will be a _tete-a-tete_ man all your life.'
During my stay in London this spring, I find I was unaccountably
negligent in preserving Johnson's sayings, more so than at any time when
I was happy enough to have an opportunity of hearing his wisdom and wit.
There is no help for it now. I must content myself with presenting such
scraps as I have. But I am nevertheless ashamed and vexed to think how
much has been lost. It is not that there was a bad crop this year; but
that I was not sufficiently careful in gathering it in. I, therefore, in
some instances can only exhibit a few detached fragments.
Talking of the wonderful concealment of the authour of the celebrated
letters signed _Junius_; he said, 'I should have believed Burke to
be Junius, because I know no man but Burke who is capable of writing
these letters; but Burke spontaneously denied it to me. The case
would have been different had I asked him if he was the authour; a man
so questioned, as to an anonymous publication, may think he has a right
to deny it.'.
He observed that his old friend, Mr. Sheridan, had been honoured with
extraordinary attention in his own country, by having had an exception
made in his favour in an Irish Act of Parliament concerning insolvent
debtors. 'Thus to be singled out (said he) by a legislature, as an
object of publick consideration and kindness, is a proof of no common
At Streatham, on Monday, March 29, at breakfast he maintained that a
father had no right to control the inclinations of his daughters in
On Wednesday, March 31, when I visited him, and confessed an excess of
which I had very seldom been guilty; that I had spent a whole night in
playing at cards, and that I could not look back on it with
satisfaction; instead of a harsh animadversion, he mildly said, 'Alas,
Sir, on how few things can we look back with satisfaction.'
On Thursday, April 1, he commended one of the Dukes of Devonshire for 'a
dogged veracity.' He said too, 'London is nothing to some people;
but to a man whose pleasure is intellectual, London is the place. And
there is no place where oeconomy can be so well practised as in London.
More can be had here for the money, even by ladies, than any where else.
You cannot play tricks with your fortune in a small place; you must make
an uniform appearance. Here a lady may have well-furnished apartments,
and elegant dress, without any meat in her kitchen.'
I was amused by considering with how much ease and coolness he could
write or talk to a friend, exhorting him not to suppose that happiness
was not to be found as well in other places as in London; when he
himself was at all times sensible of its being, comparatively speaking,
a heaven upon earth. The truth is, that by those who from sagacity,
attention, and experience, have learnt the full advantage of London, its
preeminence over every other place, not only for variety of enjoyment,
but for comfort, will be felt with a philosophical exultation. The
freedom from remark and petty censure, with which life may be passed
there, is a circumstance which a man who knows the teazing restraint of
a narrow circle must relish highly. Mr. Burke, whose orderly and amiable
domestic habits might make the eye of observation less irksome to him
than to most men, said once very pleasantly, in my hearing, 'Though I
have the honour to represent Bristol, I should not like to live there; I
should be obliged to be so much _upon my good behaviour_.' In London, a
man may live in splendid society at one time, and in frugal retirement
at another, without animadversion. There, and there alone, a man's own
house is truly his _castle_, in which he can be in perfect safety from
intrusion whenever he pleases. I never shall forget how well this was
expressed to me one day by Mr. Meynell: 'The chief advantage of
London (said he) is, that a man is always _so near his burrow_.'
He said of one of his old acquaintances, 'He is very fit for a
travelling governour. He knows French very well. He is a man of good
principles; and there would be no danger that a young gentleman should
catch his manner; for it is so very bad, that it must be avoided. In
that respect he would be like the drunken Helot.'
A gentleman has informed me, that Johnson said of the same person, 'Sir,
he has the most _inverted_ understanding of any man whom I have ever
On Friday, April 2, being Good-Friday, I visited him in the morning as
usual; and finding that we insensibly fell into a train of ridicule upon
the foibles of one of our friends, a very worthy man, I, by way of
a check, quoted some good admonition from _The Government of the
Tongue_, that very pious book. It happened also remarkably enough,
that the subject of the sermon preached to us to-day by Dr. Burrows, the
rector of St. Clement Danes, was the certainty that at the last day we
must give an account of 'the deeds done in the body;' and, amongst
various acts of culpability he mentioned evil-speaking. As we were
moving slowly along in the crowd from church, Johnson jogged my elbow,
and said, 'Did you attend to the sermon?' 'Yes, Sir, (said I,) it was
very applicable to _us_.' He, however, stood upon the defensive. 'Why,
Sir, the sense of ridicule is given us, and may be lawfully used.
The authour of _The Government of the Tongue_ would have us treat all
In the interval between morning and evening service, he endeavoured to
employ himself earnestly in devotional exercises; and as he has
mentioned in his _Prayers and Meditations_, gave me '_Les Pensees
de Paschal_', that I might not interrupt him. I preserve the book with
reverence. His presenting it to me is marked upon it with his own hand,
and I have found in it a truly divine unction. We went to church again
in the afternoon.
On Saturday, April 3, I visited him at night, and found him sitting in
Mrs. Williams's room, with her, and one who he afterwards told me was a
natural son of the second Lord Southwell. The table had a singular
appearance, being covered with a heterogeneous assemblage of oysters and
porter for his company, and tea for himself. I mentioned my having heard
an eminent physician, who was himself a Christian, argue in favour of
universal toleration, and maintain, that no man could be hurt by another
man's differing from him in opinion. JOHNSON. 'Sir, you are to a certain
degree hurt by knowing that even one man does not believe.'
On Easter-day, after solemn service at St. Paul's, I dined with him: Mr.
Allen the printer was also his guest. He was uncommonly silent; and I
have not written down any thing, except a single curious fact, which,
having the sanction of his inflexible veracity, may be received as a
striking instance of human insensibility and inconsideration. As he was
passing by a fishmonger who was skinning an eel alive, he heard him
'curse it, because it would not lye still.'
On Wednesday, April 7, I dined with him at Sir Joshua Reynolds's. I have
not marked what company was there. Johnson harangued upon the qualities
of different liquors; and spoke with great contempt of claret, as so
weak, that 'a man would be drowned by it before it made him drunk.'
He was persuaded to drink one glass of it, that he might judge, not from
recollection, which might be dim, but from immediate sensation. He shook
his head, and said, 'Poor stuff! No, Sir, claret is the liquor for boys;
port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero (smiling) must drink
brandy. In the first place, the flavour of brandy is most grateful to
the palate; and then brandy will do soonest for a man what drinking
_can_ do for him. There are, indeed, few who are able to drink
brandy. That is a power rather to be wished for than attained. And yet,
(proceeded he) as in all pleasure hope is a considerable part, I know
not but fruition comes too quick by brandy. Florence wine I think the
worst; it is wine only to the eye; it is wine neither while you are
drinking it, nor after you have drunk it; it neither pleases the taste,
nor exhilarates the spirits.' I reminded him how heartily he and I used
to drink wine together, when we were first acquainted; and how I used to
have a head-ache after sitting up with him. He did not like to
have this recalled, or, perhaps, thinking that I boasted improperly,
resolved to have a witty stroke at me: 'Nay, Sir, it was not the _wine_
that made your head ache, but the _sense_ that I put into it.' BOSWELL.
'What, Sir! will sense make the head ache?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, (with a
smile) when it is not used to it.'--No man who has a true relish of
pleasantry could be offended at this; especially if Johnson in a long
intimacy had given him repeated proofs of his regard and good estimation.
I used to say, that as he had given me a thousand pounds in praise, he
had a good right now and then to take a guinea from me.
On Thursday, April 8, I dined with him at Mr. Allan Ramsay's, with Lord
Graham and some other company. We talked of Shakspeare's witches.
JOHNSON. 'They are beings of his own creation; they are a compound of
malignity and meanness, without any abilities; and are quite different
from the Italian magician. King James says in his _Daemonology_,
'Magicians command the devils: witches are their servants. The Italian
magicians are elegant beings.' RAMSAY. 'Opera witches, not Drury-lane
witches.' Johnson observed, that abilities might be employed in a narrow
sphere, as in getting money, which he said he believed no man could do,
without vigorous parts, though concentrated to a point. RAMSAY.
'Yes, like a strong horse in a mill; he pulls better.'
Lord Graham, while he praised the beauty of Lochlomond, on the banks of
which is his family seat, complained of the climate, and said he could
not bear it. JOHNSON. 'Nay, my Lord, don't talk so: you may bear it well
enough. Your ancestors have borne it more years than I can tell.' This
was a handsome compliment to the antiquity of the House of Montrose. His
Lordship told me afterwards, that he had only affected to complain of
the climate; lest, if he had spoken as favourably of his country as he
really thought, Dr. Johnson might have attacked it. Johnson was very
courteous to Lady Margaret Macdonald. 'Madam, (said he,) when I was in
the Isle of Sky, I heard of the people running to take the stones off
the road, lest Lady Margaret's horse should stumble.'
Lord Graham commended Dr. Drummond at Naples, as a man of
extraordinary talents; and added, that he had a great love of liberty.
JOHNSON. 'He is _young_, my Lord; (looking to his Lordship with an arch
smile) all _boys_ love liberty, till experience convinces them they are
not so fit to govern themselves as they imagined. We are all agreed as
to our own liberty; we would have as much of it as we can get; but we
are not agreed as to the liberty of others: for in proportion as we
take, others must lose. I believe we hardly wish that the mob should
have liberty to govern us. When that was the case some time ago, no man
was at liberty not to have candles in his windows.' RAMSAY. 'The result
is, that order is better than confusion.' JOHNSON. 'The result is, that
order cannot be had but by subordination.'
On Friday, April 16, I had been present at the trial of the unfortunate
Mr. Hackman, who, in a fit of frantick jealous love, had shot Miss Ray,
the favourite of a nobleman. Johnson, in whose company I dined
to-day with some other friends, was much interested by my account of what
passed, and particularly with his prayer for the mercy of heaven.
He said, in a solemn fervid tone, 'I hope he _shall_ find mercy.'
This day a violent altercation arose between Johnson and
Beauclerk, which having made much noise at the time, I think it
proper, in order to prevent any future misrepresentation, to give a
minute account of it.
In talking of Hackman, Johnson argued, as Judge Blackstone had done,
that his being furnished with two pistols was a proof that he meant to
shoot two persons. Mr. Beauclerk said, 'No; for that every wise man who
intended to shoot himself, took two pistols, that he might be sure of
doing it at once. Lord ----'s cook shot himself with one pistol, and
lived ten days in great agony. Mr. ----, who loved buttered muffins, but
durst not eat them because they disagreed with his stomach, resolved to
shoot himself; and then he eat three buttered muffins for breakfast,
before shooting himself, knowing that he should not be troubled with
indigestion: _he_ had two charged pistols; one was found lying
charged upon the table by him, after he had shot himself with the
other.' 'Well, (said Johnson, with an air of triumph,) you see here one
pistol was sufficient.' Beauclerk replied smartly, 'Because it happened
to kill him.' And either then or a very little afterwards, being piqued
at Johnson's triumphant remark, added, 'This is what you don't know, and
I do.' There was then a cessation of the dispute; and some minutes
intervened, during which, dinner and the glass went on cheerfully; when
Johnson suddenly and abruptly exclaimed, 'Mr. Beauclerk, how came you to
talk so petulantly to me, as "This is what you don't know, but what I
know"? One thing _I_ know, which _you_ don't seem to know, that you are
very uncivil.' BEAUCLERK. 'Because you began by being uncivil, (which
you always are.)' The words in parenthesis were, I believe, not heard by
Dr. Johnson. Here again there was a cessation of arms. Johnson told me,
that the reason why he waited at first some time without taking any
notice of what Mr. Beauclerk said, was because he was thinking whether
he should resent it. But when he considered that there were present a
young Lord and an eminent traveller, two men of the world with whom he
had never dined before, he was apprehensive that they might think they
had a right to take such liberties with him as Beauclerk did, and
therefore resolved he would not let it pass; adding, that 'he would not
appear a coward.' A little while after this, the conversation turned on
the violence of Hackman's temper. Johnson then said, 'It was his
business to _command_ his temper, as my friend, Mr. Beauclerk, should
have done some time ago.' BEAUCLERK. 'I should learn of _you_, Sir.'
JOHNSON. 'Sir, you have given _me_ opportunities enough of learning,
when I have been in _your_ company. No man loves to be treated with
contempt.' BEAUCLERK. (with a polite inclination towards Johnson) 'Sir,
you have known me twenty years, and however I may have treated others,
you may be sure I could never treat you with contempt' JOHNSON. 'Sir,
you have said more than was necessary.' Thus it ended; and Beauclerk's
coach not having come for him till very late, Dr. Johnson and another
gentleman sat with him a long time after the rest of the company were
gone; and he and I dined at Beauclerk's on the Saturday se'nnight
After this tempest had subsided, I recollect the following particulars
of his conversation:--
'I am always for getting a boy forward in his learning; for that is a
sure good. I would let him at first read _any_ English book which
happens to engage his attention; because you have done a great deal when
you have brought him to have entertainment from a book. He'll get better
'Mallet, I believe, never wrote a single line of his projected life of
the Duke of Marlborough. He groped for materials; and thought of
it, till he had exhausted his mind. Thus it sometimes happens that men
entangle themselves in their own schemes.'
'To be contradicted, in order to force you to talk, is mighty
unpleasing. You _shine_, indeed; but it is by being _ground_.'
Of a gentleman who made some figure among the _Literati_ of his time,
(Mr. Fitzherbert,) he said, 'What eminence he had was by a felicity
of manner; he had no more learning than what he could not help.'
On Saturday, April 24, I dined with him at Mr. Beauclerk's, with Sir
Joshua Reynolds, Mr. Jones, (afterwards Sir William,) Mr. Langton, Mr.
Steevens, Mr. Paradise, and Dr. Higgins. I mentioned that Mr. Wilkes had
attacked Garrick to me, as a man who had no friend. 'I believe he is
right, Sir. [Greek: _Oi philoi, ou philos_]--He had friends, but no
friend. Garrick was so diffused, he had no man to whom he wished to
unbosom himself. He found people always ready to applaud him, and that
always for the same thing: so he saw life with great uniformity.' I took
upon me, for once, to fight with Goliath's weapons, and play the
sophist.--'Garrick did not need a friend, as he got from every body all
he wanted. What is a friend? One who supports you and comforts you,
while others do not. Friendship, you know, Sir, is the cordial drop, "to
make the nauseous draught of life go down:" but if the draught be
not nauseous, if it be all sweet, there is no occasion for that drop.'
JOHNSON. 'Many men would not be content to live so. I hope I should not.
They would wish to have an intimate friend, with whom they might compare
minds, and cherish private virtues.' One of the company mentioned Lord
Chesterfield, as a man who had no friend. JOHNSON. 'There were more
materials to make friendship in Garrick, had he not been so diffused.'
BOSWELL. 'Garrick was pure gold, but beat out to thin leaf. Lord
Chesterfield was tinsel.' JOHNSON. 'Garrick was a very good man, the
cheerfullest man of his age; a decent liver in a profession which
is supposed to give indulgence to licentiousness; and a man who gave
away, freely, money acquired by himself. He began the world with a great
hunger for money; the son of a half-pay officer, bred in a family, whose
study was to make four-pence do as much as others made four-pence
halfpenny do. But, when he had got money, he was very liberal.' I
presumed to animadvert on his eulogy on Garrick, in his _Lives of the
Poets_. 'You say, Sir, his death eclipsed the gaiety of nations.'
 JOHNSON. 'I could not have said more nor less. It is the truth;
_eclipsed_, not _extinguished_; and his death _did_ eclipse; it was like
a storm.' BOSWELL. 'But why nations? Did his gaiety extend farther than
his own nation?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, some exaggeration must be
allowed. Besides, nations may be said--if we allow the Scotch to be
a nation, and to have gaiety,--which they have not. _You_ are an
exception, though. Come, gentlemen, let us candidly admit that there is
one Scotchman who is cheerful.' BEAUCLERK. 'But he is a very unnatural
Scotchman.' I, however, continued to think the compliment to Garrick
hyperbolically untrue. His acting had ceased some time before his death;
at any rate he had acted in Ireland but a short time, at an early period
of his life, and never in Scotland. I objected also to what appears
an anticlimax of praise, when contrasted with the preceding
panegyrick,--'and diminished the public stock of harmless
pleasure!'--'Is not harmless pleasure very tame?' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir,
harmless pleasure is the highest praise. Pleasure is a word of dubious
import; pleasure is in general dangerous, and pernicious to virtue; to
be able therefore to furnish pleasure that is harmless, pleasure pure
and unalloyed, is as great a power as man can possess.' This was,
perhaps, as ingenious a defence as could be made; still, however, I was
A celebrated wit being mentioned, he said, 'One may say of him as
was said of a French wit, _Il n'a de l'esprit que contre Dieu_. I have
been several times in company with him, but never perceived any strong
power of wit. He produces a general effect by various means; he has a
cheerful countenance and a gay voice. Besides his trade is wit. It would
be as wild in him to come into company without merriment, as for a
highwayman to take the road without his pistols.'
Talking of the effects of drinking, he said, 'Drinking may be practised
with great prudence; a man who exposes himself when he is intoxicated,
has not the art of getting drunk; a sober man who happens occasionally
to get drunk, readily enough goes into a new company, which a man who
has been drinking should never do. Such a man will undertake any thing;
he is without skill in inebriation. I used to slink home, when I had
drunk too much. A man accustomed to self-examination will be
conscious when he is drunk, though an habitual drunkard will not be
conscious of it. I knew a physician who for twenty years was not sober;
yet in a pamphlet, which he wrote upon fevers, he appealed to Garrick
and me for his vindication from a charge of drunkenness. A
bookseller (naming him) who got a large fortune by trade, was so
habitually and equably drunk, that his most intimate friends never
perceived that he was more sober at one time than another.'
Talking of celebrated and successful irregular practisers in physick; he
said, 'Taylor was the most ignorant man I ever knew; but sprightly.
Ward the dullest. Taylor challenged me once to talk Latin with him;
(laughing). I quoted some of Horace, which he took to be a part of my
own speech. He said a few words well enough.' BEAUCLERK. 'I remember,
Sir, you said that Taylor was an instance how far impudence could carry
ignorance.' Mr. Beauclerk was very entertaining this day, and told us a
number of short stories in a lively elegant manner, and with that air of
_the world_ which has I know not what impressive effect, as if there
were something more than is expressed, or than perhaps we could
perfectly understand. As Johnson and I accompanied Sir Joshua
Reynolds in his coach, Johnson said, 'There is in Beauclerk a
predominance over his company, that one does not like. But he is a man
who has lived so much in the world, that he has a short story on every
occasion; he is always ready to talk, and is never exhausted.'
Johnson and I passed the evening at Miss Reynolds's, Sir Joshua's
sister. I mentioned that an eminent friend of ours, talking of the
common remark, that affection descends, said, that 'this was wisely
contrived for the preservation of mankind; for which it was not so
necessary that there should be affection from children to parents, as
from parents to children; nay, there would be no harm in that view
though children should at a certain age eat their parents.' JOHNSON.
'But, Sir, if this were known generally to be the case, parents would
not have affection for children.' BOSWELL. 'True, Sir; for it is in
expectation of a return that parents are so attentive to their children;
and I know a very pretty instance of a little girl of whom her father
was very fond, who once when he was in a melancholy fit, and had gone to
bed, persuaded him to rise in good humour by saying, "My dear papa,
please to get up, and let me help you on with your clothes, that I may
learn to do it when you are an old man."'
Soon after this time a little incident occurred, which I will not
suppress, because I am desirous that my work should be, as much as is
consistent with the strictest truth, an antidote to the false and
injurious notions of his character, which have been given by others, and
therefore I infuse every drop of genuine sweetness into my biographical
'TO DR. JOHNSON.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'I am in great pain with an inflamed foot, and obliged to keep my bed,
so am prevented from having the pleasure to dine at Mr. Ramsay's to-day,
which is very hard; and my spirits are sadly sunk. Will you be so
friendly as to come and sit an hour with me in the evening.
'I am ever
'Your most faithful,
'And affectionate humble servant,
Monday, April 26.'
'TO MR. BOSWELL.
'Mr. Johnson laments the absence of Mr. Boswell, and will come to him.'
He came to me in the evening, and brought Sir Joshua Reynolds. I need
scarcely say, that their conversation, while they sat by my bedside, was
the most pleasing opiate to pain that could have been administered.
Johnson being now better disposed to obtain information concerning Pope
than he was last year, sent by me to my Lord Marchmont a present
of those volumes of his _Lives of the Poets_ which were at this time
published, with a request to have permission to wait on him; and his
Lordship, who had called on him twice, obligingly appointed Saturday,
the first of May, for receiving us.
On that morning Johnson came to me from Streatham, and after drinking
chocolate, at General Paoli's, in South-Audley-street, we proceeded to
Lord Marchmont's in Curzon-street. His Lordship met us at the door of
his library, and with great politeness said to Johnson, 'I am not going
to make an encomium upon _myself_, by telling you the high respect I
have for _you_, Sir.' Johnson was exceedingly courteous; and the
interview, which lasted about two hours, during which the Earl
communicated his anecdotes of Pope, was as agreeable as I could have
wished. When we came out, I said to Johnson, that considering his
Lordship's civility, I should have been vexed if he had again failed to
come. 'Sir, (said he,) I would rather have given twenty pounds than not
have come.' I accompanied him to Streatham, where we dined, and returned
to town in the evening.
On Monday, May 3, I dined with him at Mr. Dilly's; I pressed him
this day for his opinion on the passage in Parnell, concerning which I
had in vain questioned him in several letters, and at length obtained it
in _due form of law_.
CASE for Dr. JOHNSON'S Opinion;
3rd of May, 1779.
'PARNELL, in his _Hermit_, has the following passage:
"To clear this doubt, to know the world by sight,
To find if _books_ and _swains_ report it right:
(For yet by _swains alone_ the world he knew,
Whose feet came wand'ring o'er the nightly dew.)"
'Is there not a contradiction in its being _first_ supposed that the
_Hermit_ knew _both_ what books and swains reported of the world; yet
_afterwards_ said, that he knew it by swains _alone_?' 'I think it an
inaccuracy.--He mentions two instructors in the first line, and says he
had only one in the next..'
This evening I set out for Scotland.
'To MRS. LUCY PORTER, IN LICHFIELD.
'Mr. Green has informed me that you are much better; I hope I need not
tell you that I am glad of it. I cannot boast of being much better; my
old nocturnal complaint still pursues me, and my respiration is
difficult, though much easier than when I left you the summer before
last. Mr. and Mrs. Thrale are well; Miss has been a little indisposed;
but she is got well again. They have since the loss of their boy had two
daughters; but they seem likely to want a son.
'I hope you had some books which I sent you. I was sorry for poor Mrs.
Adey's death, and am afraid you will be sometimes solitary; but
endeavour, whether alone or in company, to keep yourself cheerful. My
friends likewise die very fast; but such is the state of man.
'I am, dear love,
'Your most humble servant,
'May 4, 1779.'
He had, before I left London, resumed the conversation concerning the
appearance of a ghost at Newcastle upon Tyne, which Mr. John Wesley
believed, but to which Johnson did not give credit. I was, however,
desirous to examine the question closely, and at the same time wished to
be made acquainted with Mr. John Wesley; for though I differed from him
in some points, I admired his various talents, and loved his pious zeal.
At my request, therefore, Dr. Johnson gave me a letter of introduction
'To THE REVEREND MR. JOHN WESLEY.
Mr. Boswell, a gentleman who has been long known to me, is desirous of
being known to you, and has asked this recommendation, which I give him
with great willingness, because I think it very much to be wished that
worthy and religious men should be acquainted with each other.
I am, Sir,
Your most humble servant,
May 3, 1779.'
Mr. Wesley being in the course of his ministry at Edinburgh, I presented
this letter to him, and was very politely received. I begged to have it
returned to me, which was accordingly done. His state of the
evidence as to the ghost did not satisfy me. I did not write to Johnson,
as usual, upon my return to my family, but tried how he would be affected
by my silence. Mr. Dilly sent me a copy of a note which he received from
him on the 13th of July, in these words:--
'TO MR. DILLY.
Since Mr. Boswell's departure I have never heard from him; please to
send word what you know of him, and whether you have sent my books to
his lady. I am, &c.,
My readers will not doubt that his solicitude about me was very
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'What can possibly have happened, that keeps us two such strangers to
each other? I expected to have heard from you when you came home; I
expected afterwards. I went into the country and returned; and yet
there is no letter from Mr. Boswell. No ill I hope has happened; and if
ill should happen, why should it be concealed from him who loves you? Is
it a fit of humour, that has disposed you to try who can hold out
longest without writing? If it be, you have the victory. But I am afraid
of something bad; set me free from my suspicions.
'My thoughts are at present employed in guessing the reason of your
silence: you must not expect that I should tell you any thing, if I had
any thing to tell. Write, pray write to me, and let me know what is, or
what has been the cause of this long interruption.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate humble servant,
'July 13, 1779.'
'To DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
'Edinburgh, July 17, 1779.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'What may be justly denominated a supine indolence of mind has been my
state of existence since I last returned to Scotland. In a livelier
state I had often suffered severely from long intervals of silence on
your part; and I had even been chided by you for expressing my
uneasiness. I was willing to take advantage of my insensibility, and
while I could bear the experiment, to try whether your affection for me
would, after an unusual silence on my part, make you write first. This
afternoon I have had very high satisfaction by receiving your kind
letter of inquiry, for which I most gratefully thank you. I am doubtful
if it was right to make the experiment; though I have gained by it. I
was beginning to grow tender, and to upbraid myself, especially
after having dreamt two nights ago that I was with you. I and my wife,
and my four children, are all well. I would not delay one post to answer
your letter; but as it is late, I have not time to do more. You shall
soon hear from me, upon many and various particulars; and I shall never
again put you to any test.
I am, with veneration, my dear Sir,
'Your much obliged,
'And faithful humble servant,
On the 22nd of July, I wrote to him again; and gave him an account of my
last interview with my worthy friend, Mr. Edward Dilly, at his brother's
house at Southill, in Bedfordshire, where he died soon after I parted
from him, leaving me a very kind remembrance of his regard.
I informed him that Lord Hailes, who had promised to furnish him with
some anecdotes for his _Lives of the Poets_, had sent me three instances
of Prior's borrowing from _Gombauld_, in _Recueil des Poetes_, tome 3.
Epigram _To John I owed 'great obligation_,' p. 25. _To the Duke of
Noailles_, p. 32. _Sauntering Jack and Idle Joan_, p. 25.
My letter was a pretty long one, and contained a variety of particulars;
but he, it should seem, had not attended to it; for his next to me was
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'Are you playing the same trick again, and trying who can keep silence
longest? Remember that all tricks are either knavish or childish; and
that it is as foolish to make experiments upon the constancy of a
friend, as upon the chastity of a wife.
'What can be the cause of this second fit of silence, I cannot
conjecture; but after one trick, I will not be cheated by another, nor
will harass my thoughts with conjectures about the motives of a man who,
probably, acts only by caprice. I therefore suppose you are well, and
that Mrs. Boswell is well too; and that the fine summer has restored
Lord Auchinleck. I am much better than you left me; I think I am better
than when I was in Scotland.
'I forgot whether I informed you that poor Thrale has been in great
danger. Mrs. Thrale likewise has miscarried, and been much
indisposed. Every body else is well; Langton is in camp. I intend to put
Lord Hailes's description of Dryden into another edition, and as I
know his accuracy, wish he would consider the dates, which I could not
always settle to my own mind.
'Mr. Thrale goes to Brighthelmston, about Michaelmas, to be jolly and
ride a hunting. I shall go to town, or perhaps to Oxford. Exercise and
gaiety, or rather carelessness, will, I hope, dissipate all remains of
his malady; and I likewise hope by the change of place, to find some
opportunities of growing yet better myself. I am, dear Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'Streatham, Sept. 9, 1779.'
My readers will not be displeased at being told every slight
circumstance of the manner in which Dr. Johnson contrived to amuse his
solitary hours. He sometimes employed himself in chymistry, sometimes in
watering and pruning a vine, sometimes in small experiments, at
which those who may smile, should recollect that there are moments which
admit of being soothed only by trifles.
On the 20th of September I defended myself against his suspicion of me,
which I did not deserve; and added, 'Pray let us write frequently. A
whim strikes me, that we should send off a sheet once a week, like a
stage-coach, whether it be full or not; nay, though it should be empty.
The very sight of your handwriting would comfort me; and were a sheet to
be thus sent regularly, we should much oftener convey something, were it
only a few kind words.'
My friend Colonel James Stuart, second son of the Earl of Bute, who
had distinguished himself as a good officer of the Bedfordshire
militia, had taken a publick-spirited resolution to serve his
country in its difficulties, by raising a regular regiment, and taking
the command of it himself. This, in the heir of the immense property of
Wortley, was highly honourable. Having been in Scotland recruiting,
he obligingly asked me to accompany him to Leeds, then the head-quarters
of his corps; from thence to London for a short time, and afterwards to
other places to which the regiment might be ordered. Such an offer, at a
time of the year when I had full leisure, was very pleasing; especially
as I was to accompany a man of sterling good sense, information,
discernment, and conviviality; and was to have a second crop in one year
of London and Johnson. Of this I informed my illustrious friend, in
characteristical warm terms, in a letter dated the 30th of September,
On Monday, October 4, I called at his house before he was up. He sent
for me to his bedside, and expressed his satisfaction at this incidental
meeting, with as much vivacity as if he had been in the gaiety of youth.
He called briskly, 'Frank, go and get coffee, and let us breakfast _in
During this visit to London I had several interviews with him, which it
is unnecessary to distinguish particularly. I consulted him as to the
appointment of guardians to my children, in case of my death. 'Sir,
(said he,) do not appoint a number of guardians. When there are many,
they trust one to another, and the business is neglected. I would advise
you to choose only one; let him be a man of respectable character, who,
for his own credit, will do what is right; let him be a rich man, so
that he may be under no temptation to take advantage; and let him be a
man of business, who is used to conduct affairs with ability and
expertness, to whom, therefore, the execution of the trust will not be
On Sunday, October 10, we dined together at Mr. Strahan's. The
conversation having turned on the prevailing practice of going to the
East-Indies in quest of wealth;--JOHNSON. 'A man had better have ten
thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in England, than twenty
thousand pounds at the end of ten years passed in India, because you
must compute what you _give_ for money; and a man who has lived ten
years in India, has given up ten years of social comfort and all those
advantages which arise from living in England. The ingenious Mr. Brown,
distinguished by the name of Capability Brown, told me, that he
was once at the seat of Lord Clive, who had returned from India with
great wealth; and that he shewed him at the door of his bed-chamber a
large chest, which he said he had once had full of gold; upon which
Brown observed, "I am glad you can bear it so near your bed-chamber.'"
We talked of the state of the poor in London.--JOHNSON. 'Saunders
Welch, the Justice, who was once High-Constable of Holborn, and
had the best opportunities of knowing the state of the poor, told me,
that I under-rated the number, when I computed that twenty a week, that
is, above a thousand a year, died of hunger; not absolutely of immediate
hunger; but of the wasting and other diseases which are the consequences
of hunger. This happens only in so large a place as London, where
people are not known. What we are told about the great sums got by
begging is not true: the trade is overstocked. And, you may depend upon
it, there are many who cannot get work. A particular kind of manufacture
fails: those who have been used to work at it, can, for some time, work
at nothing else. You meet a man begging; you charge him with idleness:
he says, "I am willing to labour. Will you give me work?"--"I
cannot."--"Why, then you have no right to charge me with idleness."'
We left Mr. Strahan's at seven, as Johnson had said he intended to go to
evening prayers. As we walked along, he complained of a little gout in
his toe, and said, 'I shan't go to prayers to-night; I shall go
to-morrow: Whenever I miss church on a Sunday, I resolve to go another
day. But I do not always do it.' This was a fair exhibition of that
vibration between pious resolutions and indolence, which many of us have
too often experienced.
I went home with him, and we had a long quiet conversation.
I read him a letter from Dr. Hugh Blair concerning Pope, (in writing
whose life he was now employed,) which I shall insert as a literary
'TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'In the year 1763, being at London, I was carried by Dr. John Blair,
Prebendary of Westminster, to dine at old Lord Bathurst's; where we
found the late Mr. Mallet, Sir James Porter, who had been Ambassadour at
Constantinople, the late Dr. Macaulay, and two or three more. The
conversation turning on Mr. Pope, Lord Bathurst told us, that _The Essay
on Man_ was originally composed by Lord Bolingbroke in prose, and that
Mr. Pope did no more than put it into verse: that he had read Lord
Bolingbroke's manuscript in his own hand-writing; and remembered well,
that he was at a loss whether most to admire the elegance of Lord
Bolingbroke's prose, or the beauty of Mr. Pope's verse. When Lord
Bathurst told this, Mr. Mallet bade me attend, and remember this
remarkable piece of information; as, by the course of Nature, I might
survive his Lordship, and be a witness of his having said so. The
conversation was indeed too remarkable to be forgotten. A few days
after, meeting with you, who were then also in London, you will remember
that I mentioned to you what had passed on this subject, as I was much
struck with this anecdote. But what ascertains my recollection of
it beyond doubt, is that being accustomed to keep a journal of what
passed when I was in London, which I wrote out every evening, I find the
particulars of the above information, just as I have now given them,
distinctly marked; and am thence enabled to fix this conversation to
have passed on Friday, the 22d of April, 1763.
'I remember also distinctly, (though I have not for this the authority
of my journal,) that the conversation going on concerning Mr. Pope, I
took notice of a report which had been sometimes propagated that he did
not understand Greek. Lord Bathurst said to me, that he knew that
to be false; for that part of the _Iliad_ was translated by Mr. Pope in
his house in the country; and that in the mornings when they assembled
at breakfast, Mr. Pope used frequently to repeat, with great rapture,
the Greek lines which he had been translating, and then to give them his
version of them, and to compare them together.
'If these circumstances can be of any use to Dr. Johnson, you have my
full liberty to give them to him. I beg you will, at the same time,
present to him my most respectful compliments, with best wishes for his
success and fame in all his literary undertakings. I am, with great
respect, my dearest Sir,
'Your most affectionate,
'And obliged humble servant,
'Sept. 21, 1779.'
JOHNSON. 'Depend upon it, Sir, this is too strongly stated. Pope may
have had from Bolingbroke the philosophick _stamina_ of his Essay; and
admitting this to be true, Lord Bathurst did not intentionally falsify.
But the thing is not true in the latitude that Blair seems to imagine;
we are sure that the poetical imagery, which makes a great part of the
poem, was Pope's own. It is amazing, Sir, what deviations there
are from precise truth, in the account which is given of almost every
thing. I told Mrs. Thrale, "You have so little anxiety about truth,
that you never tax your memory with the exact thing." Now what is
the use of the memory to truth, if one is careless of exactness? Lord
Hailes's _Annals of Scotland_ are very exact; but they contain mere dry
particulars. They are to be considered as a Dictionary. You know
such things are there; and may be looked at when you please. Robertson
paints; but the misfortune is, you are sure he does not know the people
whom he paints; so you cannot suppose a likeness. Characters
should never be given by an historian, unless he knew the people whom
he describes, or copies from those who knew them.'
BOSWELL. 'Why, Sir, do people play this trick which I observe now, when
I look at your grate, putting the shovel against it to make the fire
burn?' JOHNSON. 'They play the trick, but it does not make the fire
burn. _There_ is a better; (setting the poker perpendicularly up at
right angles with the grate.) In days of superstition they thought, as
it made a cross with the bars, it would drive away the witch.'
BOSWELL. 'By associating with you, Sir, I am always getting an accession
of wisdom. But perhaps a man, after knowing his own character--the
limited strength of his own mind, should not be desirous of having too
much wisdom, considering, _quid valeant humeri_, how little he can
carry.' JOHNSON. 'Sir, be as wise as you can; let a man be _aliis
laetus, sapiens sibi_:
"Though pleas'd to see the dolphins play,
I mind my compass and my way."
You may be wise in your study in the morning, and gay in company at a
tavern in the evening. Every man is to take care of his own wisdom and
his own virtue, without minding too much what others think.'
He said, 'Dodsley first mentioned to me the scheme of an English
Dictionary; but I had long thought of it.' BOSWELL. 'You did not
know what you were undertaking.' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir, I knew very well
what I was undertaking,--and very well how to do it,--and have done it
very well.' BOSWELL. 'An excellent climax! and it _has_ availed
you. In your Preface you say, "What would it avail me in this gloom of
solitude?" You have been agreeably mistaken.'
In his _Life of Milton_ he observes, 'I cannot but remark a kind
of respect, perhaps unconsciously, paid to this great man by his
biographers: every house in which he resided is historically mentioned,
as if it were an injury to neglect naming any place that he honoured by
his presence.' I had, before I read this observation, been desirous of
shewing that respect to Johnson, by various inquiries. Finding him this
evening in a very good humour, I prevailed on him to give me an exact
list of his places of residence, since he entered the metropolis as an
authour, which I subjoin in a note.
I mentioned to him a dispute between a friend of mine and his lady,
concerning conjugal infidelity, which my friend had maintained was by no
means so bad in the husband, as in the wife. JOHNSON. 'Your friend was
in the right, Sir. Between a man and his Maker it is a different
question: but between a man and his wife, a husband's infidelity is
nothing. They are connected by children, by fortune, by serious
considerations of community. Wise married women don't trouble themselves
about the infidelity in their husbands.' BOSWELL. 'To be sure there is a
great difference between the offence of infidelity in a man and that of
his wife.' JOHNSON. 'The difference is boundless. The man imposes no
bastards upon his wife.'
Here it may be questioned whether Johnson was entirely in the right. I
suppose it will not be controverted that the difference in the degree of
criminality is very great, on account of consequences: but still it may
be maintained, that, independent of moral obligation, infidelity is by
no means a light offence in a husband; because it must hurt a delicate
attachment, in which a mutual constancy is implied, with such refined
sentiments as Massinger has exhibited in his play of _The
Picture_.--Johnson probably at another time would have admitted this
opinion. And let it be kept in remembrance, that he was very careful not
to give any encouragement to irregular conduct. A gentleman, not
adverting to the distinction made by him upon this subject, supposed a
case of singular perverseness in a wife, and heedlessly said, 'That then
he thought a husband might do as he pleased with a safe conscience.'
JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, this is wild indeed (smiling) you must consider that
fornication is a crime in a single man; and you cannot have more
liberty by being married.'
He this evening expressed himself strongly against the Roman Catholics;
observing, 'In every thing in which they differ from us they are wrong.'
He was even against the invocation of saints; in short, he was in
the humour of opposition.
Having regretted to him that I had learnt little Greek, as is too
generally the case in Scotland; that I had for a long time hardly
applied at all to the study of that noble language, and that I was
desirous of being told by him what method to follow; he recommended to
me as easy helps, Sylvanus's _First Book of the Iliad_; Dawson's
_Lexicon to the Greek New Testament_; and _Hesiod_, with _Pasoris
Lexicon_ at the end of it.
On Tuesday, October 13, I dined with him at Mr. Ramsay's, with Lord
Newhaven, and some other company, none of whom I recollect, but a
beautiful Miss Graham, a relation of his Lordship's, who asked Dr.
Johnson to hob or nob with her. He was flattered by such pleasing
attention, and politely told her, he never drank wine; but if she would
drink a glass of water, he was much at her service. She accepted. 'Oho,
Sir! (said Lord Newhaven) you are caught.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, I do not see
_how_ I am _caught_; but if I am caught, I don't want to get free again.
If I am caught, I hope to be kept.' Then when the two glasses of water
were brought, smiling placidly to the young lady, he said, 'Madam, let
Lord Newhaven and Johnson carried on an argument for some time,
concerning the Middlesex election. Johnson said, 'Parliament may
be considered as bound by law as a man is bound where there is nobody to
tie the knot. As it is clear that the House of Commons may expel, and
expel again and again, why not allow of the power to incapacitate for
that parliament, rather than have a perpetual contest kept up between
parliament and the people.' Lord Newhaven took the opposite side; but
respectfully said, 'I speak with great deference to you, Dr. Johnson; I
speak to be instructed.' This had its full effect on my friend. He bowed
his head almost as low as the table, to a complimenting nobleman; and
called out, 'My Lord, my Lord, I do not desire all this ceremony; let us
tell our minds to one another quietly.' After the debate was over, he
said, 'I have got lights on the subject to-day, which I had not before.'
This was a great deal from him, especially as he had written a pamphlet
He observed, 'The House of Commons was originally not a privilege of the
people, but a check for the Crown on the House of Lords. I remember
Henry the Eighth wanted them to do something; they hesitated in the
morning, but did it in the afternoon. He told them, "It is well you did;
or half your heads should have been upon Temple-bar." But the House
of Commons is now no longer under the power of the crown, and therefore
must be bribed.' He added, 'I have no delight in talking of publick
Of his fellow-collegian, the celebrated Mr. George Whitefield, he
said, 'Whitefield never drew as much attention as a mountebank does; he
did not draw attention by doing better than others, but by doing what
was strange. Were Astley to preach a sermon standing upon
his head on a horse's back, he would collect a multitude to hear him;
but no wise man would say he had made a better sermon for that. I never
treated Whitefield's ministry with contempt; I believe he did good. He
had devoted himself to the lower classes of mankind, and among them he
was of use. But when familiarity and noise claim the praise due to
knowledge, art, and elegance, we must beat down such pretensions.'
What I have preserved of his conversation during the remainder of my
stay in London at this time, is only what follows: I told him that when
I objected to keeping company with a notorious infidel, a
celebrated friend of ours said to me, 'I do not think that men who
live laxly in the world, as you and I do, can with propriety assume such
an authority. Dr. Johnson may, who is uniformly exemplary in his conduct.
But it is not very consistent to shun an infidel to-day, and get drunk
to-morrow.' JOHNSON. 'Nay, Sir, this is sad reasoning. Because a man
cannot be right in all things, is he to be right in nothing? Because a
man sometimes gets drunk, is he therefore to steal? This doctrine would
very soon bring a man to the gallows.'
After all, however, it is a difficult question how far sincere
Christians should associate with the avowed enemies of religion; for in
the first place, almost every man's mind may be more or less 'corrupted
by evil communications;' secondly, the world may very naturally
suppose that they are not really in earnest in religion, who can easily
bear its opponents; and thirdly, if the profane find themselves quite
well received by the pious, one of the checks upon an open declaration
of their infidelity, and one of the probable chances of obliging them
seriously to reflect, which their being shunned would do, is removed.
He, I know not why, shewed upon all occasions an aversion to go to
Ireland, where I proposed to him that we should make a tour. JOHNSON.
'It is the last place where I should wish to travel.' BOSWELL. 'Should
you not like to see Dublin, Sir?' JOHNSON. 'No, Sir? Dublin is only a
worse capital.' BOSWELL. 'Is not the Giant's-Causeway worth seeing?'
JOHNSON. 'Worth seeing? yes; but not worth going to see.'
Yet he had a kindness for the Irish nation, and thus generously
expressed himself to a gentleman from that country, on the subject of an
UNION which artful Politicians have often had in view--'Do not make an
union with us, Sir. We should unite with you, only to rob you. We should
have robbed the Scotch, if they had had any thing of which we could have
Of an acquaintance of ours, whose manners and every thing about him,
though expensive, were coarse, he said, 'Sir, you see in him vulgar
A foreign minister of no very high talents, who had been in his company
for a considerable time quite overlooked, happened luckily to mention
that he had read some of his _Rambler_ in Italian, and admired it much.
This pleased him greatly; he observed that the title had been
translated, _Il Genio errante_, though I have been told it was rendered
more ludicrously, _Il Vagabondo_; and finding that this minister
gave such a proof of his taste, he was all attention to him, and on the
first remark which he made, however simple, exclaimed, 'The Ambassadour
says well--His Excellency observes--.' And then he expanded and enriched
the little that had been said, in so strong a manner, that it appeared
something of consequence. This was exceedingly entertaining to the
company who were present, and many a time afterwards it furnished a
pleasant topick of merriment: '_The Ambassadeur says well_,' became a
laughable term of applause, when no mighty matter had been expressed.
I left London on Monday, October 18, and accompanied Colonel Stuart to
Chester, where his regiment was to lye for some time.
'Mr. Boswell to Dr. Johnson.
'Chester, October 22, 1779.
'My Dear Sir,
'It was not till one o'clock on Monday morning, that Colonel Stuart and
I left London; for we chose to bid a cordial adieu to Lord Mountstuart,
who was to set out on that day on his embassy to Turin. We drove on
excellently, and reached Lichfield in good time enough that night. The
Colonel had heard so preferable a character of the George, that he would
not put up at the Three Crowns, so that I did not see our host
Wilkins. We found at the George as good accommodation as we could
wish to have, and I fully enjoyed the comfortable thought that _I was in
Lichfield again_. Next morning it rained very hard; and as I had much to
do in a little time, I ordered a post-chaise, and between eight and nine
sallied forth to make a round of visits. I first went to Mr. Green,
hoping to have had him to accompany me to all my other friends, but he
was engaged to attend the Bishop of Sodor and Man, who was then lying at
Lichfield very ill of the gout. Having taken a hasty glance at the
additions to Green's museum, from which it was not easy to break
away, I next went to the Friery, where I at first occasioned some
tumult in the ladies, who were not prepared to receive _company_ so
early: but my _name_, which has by wonderful felicity come to be closely
associated with yours, soon made all easy; and Mrs. Cobb and Miss Adye
re-assumed their seats at the breakfast-table, which they had quitted
with some precipitation. They received me with the kindness of an old
acquaintance; and after we had joined in a cordial chorus to _your_
praise, Mrs. Cobb gave _me_ the high satisfaction of hearing that you
said, "Boswell is a man who I believe never left a house without leaving
a wish for his return." And she afterwards added, that she bid you tell
me, that if ever I came to Lichfield, she hoped I would take a bed at
the Friery. From thence I drove to Peter Garrick's, where I also found a
very flattering welcome. He appeared to me to enjoy his usual
chearfulness; and he very kindly asked me to come when I could, and pass
a week with him. From Mr. Garrick's, I went to the Palace to wait on Mr.
Seward. I was first entertained by his lady and daughter, he himself
being in bed with a cold, according to his valetudinary custom. But he
desired to see me; and I found him drest in his black gown, with a white
flannel night-gown above it; so that he looked like a Dominican friar.
He was good-humoured and polite; and under his roof too my reception was
very pleasing. I then proceeded to Stow-hill, and first paid my respects
to Mrs. Gastrell, whose conversation I was not willing to quit. But
my sand-glass was now beginning to run low, as I could not trespass too
long on the Colonel's kindness, who obligingly waited for me; so I
hastened to Mrs. Aston's, whom I found much better than I feared I
should; and there I met a brother-in-law of these ladies, who talked
much of you, and very well too, as it appeared to me. It then only
remained to visit Mrs. Lucy Porter, which I did, I really believe, with
sincere satisfaction on both sides. I am sure I was glad to see her
again; and, as I take her to be very honest, I trust she was glad to see
me again; for she expressed herself so, that I could not doubt of her
being in earnest. What a great key-stone of kindness, my dear Sir, were
you that morning! for we were all held together by our common attachment
to you. I cannot say that I ever passed two hours with more
self-complacency than I did those two at Lichfield. Let me not entertain
any suspicion that this is idle vanity. Will not you confirm me in my
persuasion, that he who finds himself so regarded has just reason to be
'We got to Chester about midnight on Tuesday; and here again I am in a
state of much enjoyment. Colonel Stuart and his officers treat me with
all the civility I could wish; and I play my part admirably. _Laetus
aliis, sapiens sibi_, the classical sentence which you, I imagine,
invented the other day, is exemplified in my present existence. The
Bishop, to whom I had the honour to be known several years ago,
shews me much attention; and I am edified by his conversation. I must
not omit to tell you, that his Lordship admires, very highly, your
_Prefaces to the Poets_. I am daily obtaining an extension of agreeable
acquaintance, so that I am kept in animated variety; and the study of
the place itself, by the assistance of books, and of the Bishop, is
sufficient occupation. Chester pleases my fancy more than any town I
ever saw. But I will not enter upon it at all in this letter.
'How long I shall stay here I cannot yet say. I told a very pleasing
young lady, niece to one of the Prebendaries, at whose house I saw
her, "I have come to Chester, Madam, I cannot tell how; and far less can
I tell how I am to get away from it." Do not think me too juvenile. I
beg it of you, my dear Sir, to favour me with a letter while I am here,
and add to the happiness of a happy friend, who is ever, with
'Most sincerely yours,
'If you do not write directly, so as to catch me here, I shall be
disappointed. Two lines from you will keep my lamp burning bright.'
'To James Boswell, Esq.
'Why should you importune me so earnestly to write? Of what importance
can it be to hear of distant friends, to a man who finds himself welcome
wherever he goes, and makes new friends faster than he can want them? If
to the delight of such universal kindness of reception, any thing can be
added by knowing that you retain my good-will, you may indulge yourself
in the full enjoyment of that small addition.
'I am glad that you made the round of Lichfield with so much success:
the oftener you are seen, the more you will be liked. It was pleasing to
me to read that Mrs. Aston was so well, and that Lucy Porter was so glad
to see you.
'In the place where you now are, there is much to be observed; and you
will easily procure yourself skilful directors. But what will you do to
keep away the _black dog_ that worries you at home? If you would,
in compliance with your father's advice, enquire into the old tenures
and old charters of Scotland, you would certainly open to yourself many
striking scenes of the manners of the middle ages. The feudal
system, in a country half-barbarous, is naturally productive of great
anomalies in civil life. The knowledge of past times is naturally
growing less in all cases not of publick record; and the past time of
Scotland is so unlike the present, that it is already difficult for a
Scotchman to image the oeconomy of his grandfather. Do not be tardy nor
negligent; but gather up eagerly what can yet be found.
'We have, I think, once talked of another project, a _History of the
late insurrection in Scotland_, with all its incidents. Many
falsehoods are passing into uncontradicted history. Voltaire, who loved
a striking story, has told what he could not find to be true.
'You may make collections for either of these projects, or for both, as
opportunities occur, and digest your materials at leisure. The great
direction which Burton has left to men disordered like you, is this, _Be
not solitary; be not idle_: which I would thus modify;--If you are
idle, be not solitary; if you are solitary, be not idle.
'There is a letter for you, from
'Your humble servant,
'London, October 27, 1779.'
'To Dr. Samuel Johnson.
'Carlisle, Nov. 7, 1779.
'My dear Sir,
'That I should importune you to write to me at Chester, is not
wonderful, when you consider what an avidity I have for delight; and
that the _amor_ of pleasure, like the _amor nummi_, increases in
proportion with the quantity which we possess of it. Your letter, so
full of polite kindness and masterly counsel, came like a large treasure
upon me, while already glittering with riches. I was quite enchanted at
Chester, so that I could with difficulty quit it. But the enchantment
was the reverse of that of Circe; for so far was there from being any
thing sensual in it, that I was _all mind_. I do not mean all reason
only; for my fancy was kept finely in play. And why not?--If you please
I will send you a copy, or an abridgement of my Chester journal, which
is truly a log-book of felicity.
'The Bishop treated me with a kindness which was very flattering. I told
him, that you regretted you had seen so little of Chester. His
Lordship bade me tell you, that he should be glad to shew you more of
it. I am proud to find the friendship with which you honour me is known
in so many places.
'I arrived here late last night. Our friend the Dean has been gone
from hence some months; but I am told at my inn, that he is very
_populous_ (popular). However, I found Mr. Law, the Archdeacon, son to
the Bishop, and with him I have breakfasted and dined very agreeably.
I got acquainted with him at the assizes here, about a year and a half
ago; he is a man of great variety of knowledge, uncommon genius, and I
believe, sincere religion. I received the holy sacrament in the
Cathedral in the morning, this being the first Sunday in the month; and
was at prayers there in the evening. It is divinely cheering to me to
think that there is a Cathedral so near Auchinleck; and I now leave Old
England in such a state of mind as I am thankful to GOD for granting me.
'The _black dog_ that worries me at home I cannot but dread; yet as I
have been for some time past in a military train, I trust I shall
_repulse_ him. To hear from you will animate me like the sound of a
trumpet, I therefore hope, that soon after my return to the northern
field, I shall receive a few lines from you.
'Colonel Stuart did me the honour to escort me in his carriage to shew
me Liverpool, and from thence back again to Warrington, where we
parted. In justice to my valuable wife, I must inform you she wrote
to me, that as I was so happy, she would not be so selfish as to wish me
to return sooner than business absolutely required my presence. She made
my clerk write to me a post or two after to the same purpose, by
commission from her; and this day a kind letter from her met me at the
Post-Office here, acquainting me that she and the little ones were well,
and expressing all their wishes for my return home. I am, more and more,
my dear Sir,
'And obliged humble servant,
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Your last letter was not only kind but fond. But I wish you to get rid
of all intellectual excesses, and neither to exalt your pleasures, nor
aggravate your vexations, beyond their real and natural state.
'Why should you not be as happy at Edinburgh as at Chester? _In culpa
est animus, qui se non effugit usquam_. Please yourself with your
wife and children, and studies, and practice.
'I have sent a petition from Lucy Porter, with which I leave it to
your discretion whether it is proper to comply. Return me her letter,
which I have sent, that you may know the whole case, and not be seduced
to any thing that you may afterwards repent. Miss Doxy perhaps you know
to be Mr. Garrick's niece.
'If Dean Percy can be popular at Carlisle, he may be very happy. He has
in his disposal two livings, each equal, or almost equal in value to the
deanery; he may take one himself, and give the other to his son.
'How near is the Cathedral to Auchinleck, that you are so much delighted
with it? It is, I suppose, at least an hundred and fifty miles off.
However, if you are pleased, it is so far well.
'Let me know what reception you have from your father, and the state of
his health. Please him as much as you can, and add no pain to his last
'Of our friends here I can recollect nothing to tell you. I have neither
seen nor heard of Langton. Beauclerk is just returned from
Brighthelmston, I am told, much better. Mr. Thrale and his family are
still there; and his health is said to be visibly improved; he has not
bathed, but hunted.
'At Bolt-court there is much malignity, but of late little open
hostility. I have had a cold, but it is gone.
'Make my compliments to Mrs. Boswell, &c.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'London, Nov. 13, 1779.'
On November 22, and December 21, I wrote to him from Edinburgh, giving a
very favourable report of the family of Miss Doxy's lover;--that after a
good deal of enquiry I had discovered the sister of Mr. Francis
Stewart, one of his amanuenses when writing his _Dictionary_;--that
I had, as desired by him, paid her a guinea for an old pocket-book of her
brother's which he had retained; and that the good woman, who was in
very moderate circumstances, but contented and placid, wondered at his
scrupulous and liberal honesty, and received the guinea as if sent her
by Providence.--That I had repeatedly begged of him to keep his
promise to send me his letter to Lord Chesterfield, and that this
_memento_, like _Delenda est Carthago_, must be in every letter that I
should write to him, till I had obtained my object.
1780: AETAT. 71.--In 1780, the world was kept in impatience for the
completion of his _Lives of the Poets_, upon which he was employed so
far as his indolence allowed him to labour.
I wrote to him on January 1, and March 13, sending him my notes of Lord
Marchmont's information concerning Pope;--complaining that I had not
heard from him for almost four months, though he was two letters in my
debt;--that I had suffered again from melancholy;--hoping that he had
been in so much better company, (the Poets,) that he had not time to
think of his distant friends; for if that were the case, I should have
some recompence for my uneasiness;--that the state of my affairs did not
admit of my coming to London this year; and begging he would return me
Goldsmith's two poems, with his lines marked.
His friend Dr. Lawrence having now suffered the greatest affliction to
which a man is liable, and which Johnson himself had felt in the most
severe manner; Johnson wrote to him in an admirable strain of sympathy
and pious consolation.
'To DR. LAWRENCE.
'At a time when all your friends ought to shew their kindness, and with
a character which ought to make all that know you your friends, you may
wonder that you have yet heard nothing from me.
'I have been hindered by a vexatious and incessant cough, for which
within these ten days I have been bled once, fasted four or five times,
taken physick five times, and opiates, I think, six. This day it seems
'The loss, dear Sir, which you have lately suffered, I felt many years
ago, and know therefore how much has been taken from you, and how little
help can be had from consolation. He that outlives a wife whom he has
long loved, sees himself disjoined from the only mind that has the same
hopes, and fears, and interest; from the only companion with whom he has
shared much good or evil; and with whom he could set his mind at
liberty, to retrace the past or anticipate the future. The continuity of
being is lacerated; the settled course of sentiment and action is
stopped; and life stands suspended and motionless, till it is driven by
external causes into a new channel. But the time of suspense is
'Our first recourse in this distressed solitude, is, perhaps for want of
habitual piety, to a gloomy acquiescence in necessity. Of two mortal
beings, one must lose the other; but surely there is a higher and better
comfort to be drawn from the consideration of that Providence which
watches over all, and a belief that the living and the dead are equally
in the hands of GOD, who will reunite those whom he has separated; or
who sees that it is best not to reunite.
'I am, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate,
'And most humble servant,
'January 20, 1780.'
'To JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Well, I had resolved to send you the Chesterfield letter; but I will
write once again without it. Never impose tasks upon mortals. To require
two things is the way to have them both undone.
'For the difficulties which you mention in your affairs I am sorry; but
difficulty is now very general: it is not therefore less grievous, for
there is less hope of help. I pretend not to give you advice, not
knowing the state of your affairs; and general counsels about prudence
and frugality would do you little good. You are, however, in the right
not to increase your own perplexity by a journey hither; and I hope that
by staying at home you will please your father.
'Poor dear Beauclerk--_nec, ut soles, dabis joca_. His wit
and his folly, his acuteness and maliciousness, his merriment and
reasoning, are now over. Such another will not often be found among
mankind. He directed himself to be buried by the side of his mother, an
instance of tenderness which I hardly expected. He has left his
children to the care of Lady Di, and if she dies, of Mr. Langton, and of
Mr. Leicester his relation, and a man of good character. His library has
been offered to sale to the Russian ambassador.
'Dr. Percy, notwithstanding all the noise of the newspapers, has had no
literary loss. Clothes and moveables were burnt to the value of
about one hundred pounds; but his papers, and I think his books, were
'Poor Mr. Thrale has been in extreme danger from an apoplectical
disorder, and recovered, beyond the expectation of his physicians; he is
now at Bath, that his mind may be quiet, and Mrs. Thrale and Miss are
'Having told you what has happened to your friends, let me say something
to you of yourself. You are always complaining of melancholy, and I
conclude from those complaints that you are fond of it. No man talks of
that which he is desirous to conceal, and every man desires to conceal
that of which he is ashamed. Do not pretend to deny it; _manifestum
habemus furem_; make it an invariable and obligatory law to yourself,
never to mention your own mental diseases; if you are never to speak of
them, you will think on them but little, and if you think little of
them, they will molest you rarely. When you talk of them, it is plain
that you want either praise or pity; for praise there is no room, and
pity will do you no good; therefore, from this hour speak no more, think
no more, about them.
'Your transaction with Mrs. Stewart gave me great satisfaction; I am
much obliged to you for your attention. Do not lose sight of her; your
countenance may be of great credit, and of consequence of great
advantage to her. The memory of her brother is yet fresh in my mind; he
was an ingenious and worthy man.
'Please to make my compliments to your lady, and to the young ladies. I
should like to see them, pretty loves.
'I am, dear Sir,
'April 8, 1780.'
Mrs. Thrale being now at Bath with her husband, the correspondence
between Johnson and her was carried on briskly. I shall present my
readers with one of her original letters to him at this time, which will
amuse them probably more than those well-written but studied epistles
which she has inserted in her collection, because it exhibits the easy
vivacity of their literary intercourse. It is also of value as a key to
Johnson's answer, which she has printed by itself, and of which I shall
'MRS. THRALE TO DR. JOHNSON.
'I had a very kind letter from you yesterday, dear Sir, with a most
circumstantial date. You took trouble with my circulating letter,
 Mr. Evans writes me word, and I thank you sincerely for so doing:
one might do mischief else not being on the spot.
'Yesterday's evening was passed at Mrs. Montagu's: there was Mr.
Melmoth; I do not like him _though_, nor he me; it was expected we
should have pleased each other; he is, however, just Tory enough to hate
the Bishop of Peterborough for Whiggism, and Whig enough to abhor
you for Toryism.
'Mrs. Montagu flattered him finely; so he had a good afternoon on't.
This evening we spend at a concert. Poor Queeney's sore eyes have
just released her; she had a long confinement, and could neither read
nor write, so my master treated her very good-naturedly with the
visits of a young woman in this town, a taylor's daughter, who professes
musick, and teaches so as to give six lessons a day to ladies, at five
and threepence a lesson. Miss Burney says she is a great performer; and
I respect the wench for getting her living so prettily; she is very
modest and pretty-mannered, and not seventeen years old.
'You live in a fine whirl indeed; if I did not write regularly you would
half forget me, and that would be very wrong, for I _felt_ my regard for
you in my _face_ last night, when the criticisms were going on.
'This morning it was all connoisseurship; we went to see some pictures
painted by a gentleman-artist, Mr. Taylor, of this place; my master
makes one, every where, and has got a good dawling companion to ride
with him now. He looks well enough, but I have no notion of health for a
man whose mouth cannot be sewed up. Burney and I and Queeney
teize him every meal he eats, and Mrs. Montagu is quite serious with him;
but what _can_ one do? He will eat, I think, and if he does eat I know he
will not live; it makes me very unhappy, but I must bear it. Let me
always have your friendship. I am, most sincerely, dear Sir,
'Your faithful servant,
'H. L. T.'
'Bath, Friday, April 28.'
'DR. JOHNSON TO MRS. THRALE.
'Mr. Thrale never will live abstinently, till he can persuade himself to
live by rule.
* * * * *
Encourage, as you can, the musical girl.
'Nothing is more common than mutual dislike, where mutual approbation is
particularly expected. There is often on both sides a vigilance not
over-benevolent; and as attention is strongly excited, so that nothing
drops unheeded, any difference in taste or opinion, and some difference
where there is no restraint will commonly appear, immediately generates
'Never let criticisms operate upon your face or your mind; it is very
rarely that an authour is hurt by his criticks. The blaze of reputation
cannot be blown out, but it often dies in the socket; a very few
names may be considered as perpetual lamps that shine unconsumed. From
the authour of _Fitzosborne's Letters_ I cannot think myself in much
danger. I met him only once about thirty years ago, and in some small
dispute reduced him to whistle; having not seen him since, that is the
last impression. Poor Moore, the fabulist, was one of the company.
'Mrs. Montagu's long stay, against her own inclination, is very
convenient. You would, by your own confession, want a companion; and she
is _par pluribus_; conversing with her you may _find variety in
'London, May 1, 1780.'
On the and of May I wrote to him, and requested that we might have
another meeting somewhere in the North of England, in the autumn of this
From Mr. Langton I received soon after this time a letter, of which I
extract a passage, relative both to Mr. Beauclerk and Dr. Johnson.
'The melancholy information you have received concerning Mr. Beauclerk's
death is true. Had his talents been directed in any sufficient degree as
they ought, I have always been strongly of opinion that they were
calculated to make an illustrious figure; and that opinion, as it had
been in part formed upon Dr. Johnson's judgment, receives more and more
confirmation by hearing what, since his death, Dr. Johnson has said
concerning them; a few evenings ago, he was at Mr. Vesey's, where
Lord Althorpe, who was one of a numerous company there, addressed
Dr. Johnson on the subject of Mr. Beauclerk's death, saying, "Our CLUB
has had a great loss since we met last." He replied, "A loss, that
perhaps the whole nation could not repair!" The Doctor then went on to
speak of his endowments, and particularly extolled the wonderful ease
with which he uttered what was highly excellent. He said, that "no man
ever was so free when he was going to say a good thing, from a _look_
that expressed that it was coming; or, when he had said it, from a look
that expressed that it had come." At Mr. Thrale's, some days before when
we were talking on the same subject, he said, referring to the same idea
of his wonderful facility, "That Beauclerk's talents were those which he
had felt himself more disposed to envy, than those of any whom he had
'On the evening I have spoken of above, at Mr. Vesey's, you would have
been much gratified, as it exhibited an instance of the high importance
in which Dr. Johnson's character is held, I think even beyond any I ever
before was witness to. The company consisted chiefly of ladies, among
whom were the Duchess Dowager of Portland, the Duchess of Beaufort,
whom I suppose from her rank I must name before her mother Mrs.
Boscawen, and her elder sister Mrs. Lewson, who was likewise there; Lady
Lucan, Lady Clermont, and others of note both for their station
and understandings. Among the gentlemen were Lord Althorpe, whom I have
before named, Lord Macartney, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord Lucan, Mr.
Wraxal, whose book you have probably seen, _The Tour to the
Northern Parts of Europe_; a very agreeable ingenious man; Dr. Warren,
Mr. Pepys, the Master in Chancery, whom I believe you know, and Dr.
Barnard, the Provost of Eton. As soon as Dr. Johnson was come in
and had taken a chair, the company began to collect round him,
till they became not less than four, if not five, deep; those behind
standing, and listening over the heads of those that were sitting near
him. The conversation for some time was chiefly between Dr.
Johnson and the Provost of Eton, while the others contributed
occasionally their remarks. Without attempting to detail the particulars
of the conversation, which perhaps if I did, I should spin my account
out to a tedious length, I thought, my dear Sir, this general account of
the respect with which our valued friend was attended to, might be
'To THE REVEREND DR. FARMER.